The stories of World War II have always been a matter of fascination to audiences. The tales of heroism, sacrifices, and perseverance have never failed to inspire and enthrall. Battle strategy, tactics, individual valor, and solidarity of World War II are elements that dictate our curiosity to this day. And when it comes to portraying the immersive tales of WWII, TV shows have unanimously got the upper hand. With more screen time comes more battle scenes and suspense; who wouldn’t want Saving Private Ryan stretched into a TV show?
Many splendid TV shows have been able to portray the remarkable stories of WWII on the silver screen. From incredibly shot battle scenes to intricate character portrayals, these TV shows have it all to take us to the front line of the battlefield. These dramas showcase the horrors of war and the heroism and sacrifices it took for the commons to manifest the greater good. Affirming realism and historical accuracy, we present to you the list of the greatest TV shows about World War II.
Updated May 2023: To keep the article fresh and relevant by adding more information and entries, this article has been updated by Amira Abdel-Fadil.
11 The Long Long Holiday (2015)
The Long Long Holiday is a delicate yet weighty portrayal of World War II in France. Set in Normandy, two young siblings visit their grandparents as the war breaks out in Europe. The drama is shown from the perspective of the children. It is humanistic and dark, with some sprinkles of humor and realism.
The animation really does add to the story here, as the art style is beautiful, and it takes a bit away from the series being completely dark. It’s an emotional journey as it focuses on the finest details, from violence and discrimination in the war to heartfelt friendships and utmost innocence. The series is also accurate in its facts and does not exaggerate or underplay any events, which makes it truly respectable. A true testament to that is how both children and adults alike enjoyed it.
10 The World at War (1973)
The World at War is a powerful BAFTA-winning documentary television miniseries that educates. It extensively covers the history of World War II in a 26-part story. It highlights the most key moments in the war, providing priceless interviews with those who were familiar with the war. Most of the interviewees are now dead, which makes this documentation all the more important and one of a kind.
The mini-documentary took four years to produce as the creators wanted it to be as accurate as possible. It is also coupled with a terrific soundtrack and a gripping narrative by Laurence Oliver. The quality production has become a benchmark for all World War II documentaries that came after it.
9 Holocaust (1978)
Holocaust is a television miniseries that shines a light on the struggles of the Jewish people during the Nazi’s horrifying genocide of their community. The show dives into the life of a Jewish family to make the narrative more personal. We are taken on a journey where we follow how each member of the family was affected by Anti Semetic-Nazi law.
The series helped raise awareness of this horrible true account and helped popularize the word “Holocaust.” It is considered one of the best series of all time on this subject due to its extensive and deep examination of what happened to Europe’s Jews between 1935 and 1945. The miniseries has won eight Primetime Emmys and has an impressive cast, such as Meryl Streep, that brings the story to life.
8 Tenko (1981)
Tenko is yet another powerful World War II series. Set in 1942, it tells the tales of a group of Australian, British, and Dutch women who were held captive in a Japanese military camp on the island of Sumatra just as they were trying to escape. This eye-opening series really showcases what it means to be a woman prisoner during the war.
It is nothing short of a living hell; they face malnutrition, no medication, no sanitation, and much more. It explores the human condition when put in unbearable conditions. The show also does a great job of consistently exploring each of the women’s internal and external struggles, which makes for a balanced portrayal of different individuals. Considered one of BBC’s best TV series, Tenko is definitely a historical gem.
7 Das Boot (2018 – Present)
Successor to the critically acclaimed 1985 U-boat movie of the same name, Das Boot is a TV show that focuses on the later events of the film taking place during 1942. Three seasons of the show have been released with a total of 26 episodes, with a fourth season expected to release in 2023.
The TV show bridges a loose connection between its predecessor and showcases the journey of a young German U-boat crew and the plotting of a French resistance in the port of La Rochelle. The story paces in two places: one inside the German submarine and another in the port city of La Rochelle. The young German crew headed by commander Klaus Hoffmann voyages for a dangerous surveillance mission facing the threat of an ever-strengthening allied foe.
The tense and confined atmosphere of the German U-boat consequences complexities and intense mental pressure among the crew. Back in La Rochelle, a French resistance is on the verge of happening, which incidentally also includes Simone Strasser, a German Navy translator who battles to keep her loyalty to Germany.
Overall the TV show is a worthy successor of the widely regarded WWII movie Dasboot (1985). The director successfully portrays the intense and gripping atmosphere of the inside of a submarine and how the crew constantly faces challenges. The show’s suspenseful sequences and incredible cinematography make it one of the greatest TV shows about WWII.
6 Foyle’s War (2002 – 2015)
The long-running WWII TV show Foyle’s War doesn’t involve direct war but focuses on the tense situation back home on British soil. The detective Drama follows the daily investigations of the cunning Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle, played by Michael Kitchen. The Detective investigates crimes from mysterious kidnappings to appalling murders throughout his home in Hastings. As the war engulfed Europe in 1940, the effects directly influenced lives back in England, which resulted in rising crime rates.
Detective Foyle, with his sergeant, Paul Milner, and his driver, Samantha Stewart, solve thriller-filled crimes involving war elements like espionage, rationing, military interventions, etc. The series brilliantly showcases WWII’s effects on people’s daily lives. The cast’s acting was spot on, especially Michael Kitchen, who flawlessly portrayed the detective and brought out the character’s unique aura and charisma. The show was also praised for its historical accuracy and realistic portrayal of people’s daily lives. The show’s gripping depictions of the crimes and practical investigations, together with its WWII factors, make it one of the best detective dramas and certainly the best in terms of WWII.
5 Generation War (2013)
The historical WWII drama Generation War is a TV show based on the European theater of war in the eyes of the German soldiers. Directed by Philipp Kadelbach, the series premiered in 2013 and made quite a stir among critics. The show follows the lives of five young German friends as they entangle themselves in the War in Europe. Seeking young dreams, the five prolonged friends directly join the war on the German side but quickly realize the harsh realities. As the war rages on, the lives of these young blood change for good as they perceive the brutalities and twisted ideologies. Some are ravaged in the insides, becoming tools of the German regime, and some become deranged, facing the atrocities and mindlessness of the bloody WWII.
The show’s brilliant screenplay in portraying the barbarities and inanities of the war is unmatched. Through the experience of the five friends, the TV show does a great job of shedding light on the German soldiers’ perception of the war. The Show depicted the German side of the war very realistically and raised many paramount moral questions. All the controversies aside, the thought-provoking TV surely deserves a spot on the list of the greatest TV shows about WWII.
4 The Pacific (2010)
Produced by the likes of Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, The Pacific is the successor to the hugely popular WWII series Band of Brothers. The series is based on United States War in the Pacific against the Japanese Empire. The critically acclaimed TV series follows the fierce battles fought by the Marines in different Japanese-controlled islands. Rather than focusing on the same company done in Band of Brothers, the show portrays the experiences of three different individuals, namely Robert Leckie, John Basilone, and Eugene Sledge. Starting from Guadalcanal in August 1942, The Pacific paces with the advance of the Marine Corps toward the Japanese mainland ending in Okinawa, Showcasing the grueling and bloody battles one after another.
Through the portrayal of the lives of the three Marines, the show depicts the sacrifices the soldiers had to make and the mental and physical traumas they had to endure. The Pacific had a different approach than its predecessor and focused more on the War’s brutal and harrowing consequences and how much people from both sides had to suffer. Every performance by the cast was splendid and enthralling. The realism, gritty atmosphere, and historical accuracy easily make it great.
The legendary TV series Combat! ran from 1962 to 1967 and was foundational for the short-form television format of war series. Combat! was revolutionary in a lot of ways, and not just for its authentic portrayal of World War II at a time when television shows were often much more artificial and even cheesy. It was also daring for its ability to oscillate between protagonists (Rick Jason’s platoon leader Second Lieutenant Gil Hanley and Vic Morrow’s Sergeant “Chip” Saunders would alternately lead most episodes).
The great director Robert Altman would partially begin his career here, directing and producing numerous episodes of the series, and Combat! truly does display his ramshackle ensemble scop. This is best seen in the vast amount of excellent guest stars throughout its chronicle of the war — Beau Bridgers, Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson, James Caan, John Cassavetes, James Coburn, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper, Roddy McDowall, Rip Torn, Dean Stockwell, Harry Dean Stanton, Mickey Rooney, Telly Savalas, Tom Skerritt, Warren Oates, Leonard Nimoy, and many more.
2 Das Boot (1981)
The WWII TV drama Das Boot (1981) is based on the experiences of a German U-Boat crew during the Battle of the Atlantic. Widely regarded as one of the greatest shows ever made, Das Boot was initially released to the theaters as a film. Later, the director’s cut of the movie was converted into a six-episode TV show.
The show portrays a young German U-Boat crew led by the experienced Captain Henrich Lehmann-Willenbrock on a dangerous mission against the ever-strengthening British Navy. As the battle of the Atlantic gets fierce in 1941, the German crew is tasked with a perilous mission to penetrate into the enemy waters and destroy as many Allied ships as possible. As time flies, the mission grows ever more dangerous, facing detection from the enemies. The German submarine coming under Allied radar, fronted continuous threats of torpedoes and depth charges. Escaping near-death experiences multiple times, the German crew gets exhausted and cramped and fights an immense psychological war until the end.
The show’s portrayal of life inside a submarine was both spot-on and frightening at the same time. Director Wolfgang Peterson kept a tense and suspenseful atmosphere throughout, and every cast member’s performance was impeccable. The show’s ability to get onto viewers’ nerves easily earns it its place on this list.
1 Band of Brothers (2001)
Regarded as one of the greatest TV shows ever made, Band of Brothers is based on the United States 101st Airborne operations in the European theater of war. The show was created by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, acting as executive producers under the banner of DreamWorks Television and Playtone Productions.
The WWII TV show follows the footsteps of the Easy Company led by Dick Winters as they advance more and more into France. From their training in 1942, the show portrays the brutal battles fought by the men of the Easy Company and the hardships and sacrifices they make in the long bloody war. From the cluttered invasion of D-Day to the bloody siege of Bastogne, Band of Brothers brilliantly showcases the brutal and harrowing battles and the heroic actions done by the paratroopers. The rigid bond the characters form with one another creates a warm connection with the viewers.
The cinematography and screenplay were spot-on, and it almost felt like a companion to Saving Private Ryan. Under the spotlight were the battle scenes, which were exceptionally shot, realistic, and historically accurate. Every performance by the cast was a standout, and no actor was overshadowed. There is absolutely no reason not to say that Band Of Brothers is the greatest TV show about WWII.
This story originally appeared on Movieweb